1, 2. (a) How were the ancient Israelites organized to serve as God’s earthly representatives? (b) Why was the nation of Israel rejected by God, and by whom was it replaced?
THROUGHOUT history, the Creator has provided the necessary means by which those earnestly seeking him can come and worship him. In other words, Jehovah has always had loyal worshippers on earth serving as his channel of communication as well as being his representatives.
2 From the 16th century B.C.E., and for about 1,500 years, the Israelites were God’s chosen people, his representatives on earth. (Exodus 19:5, 6) Jehovah organized them into a nation, gave them his laws, and provided them with detailed information concerning pure worship. Later, God even appointed a king to rule over them. However, because of being repeatedly unfaithful, the Israelites were cast off by God in the first century C.E. (Matthew 23:37, 38) When Jesus came to earth, he clearly pointed out the way to God, saying: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Followers of Jesus Christ were accepted by God to replace the nation of Israel as God’s representatives on earth.—1 Peter 2:9, 10.
3. What characterized the early Christians?
3 The Christians in the first century were a united brotherhood, fully devoted to the evangelizing work. (Matthew 28:19, 20) They held fast to the teachings of the Bible. They were known for being law-abiding, respectful of government officials, and loving toward their fellow man. Despite all of this, they were viciously opposed and persecuted. Why? Because they firmly believed that only God’s Kingdom can bring lasting peace and happiness for mankind. In obedience to Jesus’ command, they gave full support to God’s Kingdom, remaining strictly neutral in worldly affairs, not taking part in or interfering with any political or military activities. (Matthew 6:33; John 18:36) Their position was often misunderstood, and this brought upon them opposition and persecution. Still, they preached about the Kingdom with unwavering zeal. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Colossae, “[the good news] has presented itself to you, even as it is bearing fruit and increasing in all the world.” The first-century Christians preached the good news throughout the realms of the Roman Empire.—Colossians 1:6.
A Period of Darkness—The Rise of Christendom
4, 5. How did the Roman Catholic Church come into existence, and how does it compare with the early Christian congregation?
4 In time, the Christian congregation faced a period of dramatic changes. As foretold in the Bible, false Christians infiltrated God’s organization and became a lawless influence, bringing in teachings and practices that were unscriptural.—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Peter 2:1-3.
5 In the first-century Christian congregation, there were no class distinctions. By the second century, a hierarchy of bishops and presbyters had come into existence, resulting in a separation of clergy and laity. Next, such pagan doctrines as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, and hellfire came to be accepted by those who claimed to be Christians. Then, in 313 C.E., Roman Emperor Constantine ordered that this apostate form of Christianity be recognized as a lawful religion. By the end of the fourth century, the “Christian” Church, which was actively meddling in politics, was promoted to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, and it became known as the Roman Catholic Church.
6, 7. How did the Protestant churches come to be, and why do they not represent a return to true Christianity?
6 In the 16th century, the Reformation brought new developments to the religious scene in Europe. Reformers, such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin, attacked the Catholic Church on various issues. As a result, religious groups sprang up, breaking free from the papal authority of Rome. Later these groups became known as Protestants (protesters against the Roman Catholic Church).
7 Even though the various Protestant churches are organized differently, they have basically retained the separation of clergy and laity. They also continue to teach such unscriptural doctrines as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, eternal torment in a fiery hell, and others. On the matter of Christian neutrality, Protestants do not differ from Catholics. They remain a part of the world. While the Protestant Reformation did bring about some changes, it did not mark a return to true Christianity. However, in a parable, Jesus Christ foretold that the time would come when true Christianity would be restored and wheatlike true Christians would “shine as brightly as the sun.”—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
God’s True Worshippers in Modern Times
8. How has true Christianity been restored in modern times?
8 In the late 19th century, a group of sincere Bible students in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., began to discern that many of the doctrines taught by the churches are unscriptural. They decided to undertake a systematic study of the Bible to see what it really teaches. Soon, they began to make known the Bible truths that they learned by publishing and distributing books, magazines, and tracts. Over the past 100 years and more, this group, now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, has grown from a mere handful to a vast company of over seven million in more than 235 lands around the world.
9, 10. What proves that Jehovah’s Witnesses truly represent God and make up his organization in modern times?
9 Jesus told his followers: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another . . . By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) For this reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not get involved in wars or social conflicts. Even under the most trying circumstances, they are determined to remain firm in their stand and love one another to the end. For example, during the second world war, they made great sacrifices in order to hold fast to Jesus’ command. Commenting on the situation in Nazi Germany, historian Claudia Koonz said in her book Mothers in the Fatherland: “From the first, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not cooperate with any facet of the Nazi state. . . . About half (mostly men) of all Jehovah’s Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, a thousand of them were executed, and another thousand died between 1933 and 1945.” They were willing to sacrifice their lives because of their love for God and for their fellow man. This helps to identify them as true Christians.
10 Like the early Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses are law-abiding citizens. They take to heart Jesus’ words: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:21) They obey “Caesar,” or the governmental authorities, by diligently fulfilling the responsibilities that are required of citizens, such as paying taxes and complying with census laws and marriage registrations. However, when there is a conflict between Caesar’s law and God’s requirements, they follow the example of the first-century Christians, who said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Truly, in these and all aspects of their life and their worship, Jehovah’s Witnesses make up God’s true worshippers in modern times.
Turn to True Worship Now
11. What are Jehovah’s Witnesses doing to help people of all nations turn to God?
11 “God is not partial,” the Bible tells us, “but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) Yes, it is God’s will that people of all nations come to know him and be blessed by him. To this end, Jehovah’s Witnesses publish Bible literature in well over 400 languages. They use every available means to bring the good news of the Bible to people around the earth. (Matthew 24:14) And they offer to study the Bible free of charge with all who are interested. Jehovah’s Witnesses sincerely invite you to share with them in the pursuit of lasting peace and happiness. Would you be willing to do so?
12. Why is it urgent that you make the right choice in your worship today?
12 Over the past two thousand years, many religious institutions and organizations have misrepresented true Christianity and have slandered the name of God and of Christ. The time for God to take action to execute judgment against all false religion is at hand! In view of that, Jehovah’s Witnesses urge all who truly love God to heed the command found at Revelation 18:4 and get out of all false religions. True worship has been restored, and millions of people around the world are streaming to it. (Isaiah 2:2-4) Are you one of them? If so, you can look forward to wonderful blessings just ahead.